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Active Learning and Research
Active Learning and Research
Economic geographer Yuko Aoyama is interested in how technologies such as the Internet can help consumers and producers overcome the contraints of geography and connect in a global marketplace, and how that connection affects cultural identity.


Meet the researchers: Is education the answer?

Interview with Ian Giddings, Spring 2006
Geography major Ian Giddings '06 undertook a senior thesis to investigate educational policy in his home country. In a recent conversation, summarized below, Ian discussed his research on the relationship between educational policy and poverty in Kenya, a country that gained its independence from British colonial rule in 1963. It is estimated that in 2000 approximately 50% of the population lived below the poverty line and that in 2001 unemployment was at 40%.*

Did you know you wanted to major in geography when you came to Clark?

It was a decision that evolved. I originally wanted to be an International Development and Social Change major, but I thought that, during my freshman year, I should take classes in different areas. I noticed that I began to take more and more geography classes. It was more interesting to me. I chose the Globalization, Cities and Development stream as my specialization within the geography major.

What led you to do a senior honors thesis?

I wanted to do something that was of personal interest in more depth. Doing the thesis has been a good experience.

Was this your first experience participating in research at Clark?

I had worked previously as a research assistant for my thesis advisor, Professor Yuko Aoyama. The research project was on the globalization of the animation video game industries, mainly in India and East Asia. I did a lot of literature search and data collection. I read corporate reports, and tracked companies. I looked at where the animation headquarters were as opposed to where the manufacturing and development components were. We looked for answers to questions like who designs the games, who owns the companies, what companies they work with, why they locate where they do and whom they use for outsourcing.

I was able to get credit for that work in the form of a directed study course. I really liked working as a research assistant. I enjoyed meeting once a week with Professor Aoyama and going over what I'd done and discussing which direction to move in from there. After that, I thought it would be a good idea to try doing my own research with Professor Aoyama to guide me through the process. I really enjoyed it.

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What is the subject of your senior honors thesis?

I wanted to study the role of education, if any, in alleviating poverty in Kenya.

What led you to choose that topic?

I grew up in Kenya, and the Kenyan government has recently promoted education as the answer to many social disparities within the nation. Literacy is freedom. I had doubts about that. I looked at the education initiatives that were published by the Kenyan government. I think a lot of it is propaganda. A lot of glorification of education with no supporting evidence, or cohesive strategies for their approach and reforms. If you look at what's happening on the ground, there's a big difference. Policies don't get followed up on and evaluated. I think that, in fact, Kenya is an example of how education has and will not accomplish what most people believe it should.

What kind of information sources did you look at?

Articles and books that had been written on education policy. I also conducted some interviews with recent graduates of Kenyan universities for opinions on the direction of education policy in contemporary Kenya. I wanted to access databases at the Kenyan Ministry of Education and Technology but was unable to establish any communication.

Have you come to any conclusion about the role of education in alleviating poverty?

I think that Kenya's experience shows that education by itself doesn't solve the problem of poverty. Education is very important and I think people should have it as a right. But the way the government is pushing education, people feel they have to take advantage of it since it's free. During the colonial period in Kenya there was this idea that if you got an education, you'd move up higher up in the colonial administration. That feeling, that if you get an education you're automatically going to get a better job and better pay, is still around today. But that attitude is leading to high rural to urban migration of people in search of educated labor opportunities that are simply not available in the present economy. Now cities are struggling with expanding slums and increasing poverty. I think that education is, to some extent, giving individuals a false hope for improved livelihoods.

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What approach do you think would make more sense?

I think the government needs to deal with the infrastructure of the economy first. They need to provide jobs and a more comprehensive approach to dealing with poverty. They need to think about who should be educated and what they should be educated to do. In my opinion they need to have heavy state control to push them in the right direction. Where are people needed to fill jobs that will build the economy? Right now it's as if the government is saying "we're going to provide education, it's your task to go out and improve the economy." It's a bottom-up approach, when should really be the other way around. They're going to have to work on poverty from a lot of different angles, not just education. There's a quote that I have in my thesis—"Education is a product of development. It isn't a means for development."

Can you give your opinion on the advantages and disadvantages of participating in research?

There's a huge advantage in doing what you're interested in. If you start in a direction that begins to get dull and inconclusive, you just change directions. The disadvantage of doing a thesis is the feeling sometimes of being out of control. When I began, I came into Professor Aoyama's office with a huge stack of papers—pages and pages of resources. I didn't know where to start. I'd read most of it but I did't know how to structure my thesis. In terms of organization, you have to be self-organized, whereas in a classroom you get more guidance. In a classroom you have a teacher telling you what to do, when to do it, you have an overall theme. Also in a classroom setting you get to explore more areas that relate, but are specific to the same topic. With the thesis you have to focus more. You have to be really interested in what you're doing.

How did you work with Professor Aoyama on your thesis? Did she help you structure the process?

We met once a week throughout the year. She was really helpful. I started with an idea, but no real sense of how to structure my argument. We talked several times, and together we drew up an outline. Every week I brought in new material that I'd been writing up. She'd say things like 'this works,' 'this probably doesn't work,' 'you can change this to make it work.' I couldn't have done it without her guidance.

*Estimate from CIA World Factbook, http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ke.html.

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Ian Giddings


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